10.16.18: a rebel alliance of quality content
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the songs remain inane
incompetence and deceit at the riaa
by dan gonzalez

Those of us who love music have noted, in various ways, a seeming decline in the quality and substance of modern song-smithing. It has been attributed to many things: Some sort of poorly defined, post-modern inspirational malaise; A certain jadedness that has overcome both musicians and consumers; Rampant, conglomerate driven over-commercialization; or the dissatisfying, emotional hang-over that results after indulging in the initially exciting, but patently pretentious and ultimately unsustaining fruit of superficial over-hype.

I suppose it could be any one of these things, or some degree of all or most, but it seems certain that one element to be factored in is the mis-management of the establishment itself. In this case, I'm referring to the RIAA.

Unfortunately for us, some of the best songs we've heard recently are not on CD's or radio, but the fantastic tales crooned by the RIAA in courtrooms and lobbying sessions all over the country.

To begin with, the RIAA will not admit that there is any kind of a lack of quality content. And they probably shouldn't because, as William Goldman once said of Hollywood, "No one here knows anything". Their job is to produce music, and not evaluate it. The consumers will decide what is substantial, and not the marketers. That is, and always has been, how artistic integrity is most reliably defined.

And yet, despite obvious signs of discontent in quality, the RIAA has charged in a random, self-serving direction. They have declared that the real problem is not poor quality, but their own monetary losses. And they have identified an enemy to blame, the P2P file-sharer, and have targeted that enemy with prejudice. This tactic, while unsavory, is also something we are used to. It is the hallmark of all clueless authoritarian regimes who wish to advance a personal agenda against majority sensibilities, and it is smart: It easier to motivate casual thinkers to mobilize against an enemy than it is to motivate the regime's own incompetent ranks to accomplish a task that is practically impossible.

In any case, all is fair in the land of 'free' speech and democracy, right?

Wrong. The RIAA has told at several major lies which have been bought wholesale and used them to run rough-shod over libertarian illegal search and seizure laws to persecute people who, after a long history of fair use, were merely sitting in the privacy of their homes, communicating with other individuals of their choosing, in a manner of their choosing, and exchanging information of their choosing. And, perhaps most ominous, instead of presuming that any of these individuals were innocent, the RIAA branded them all 'thieves' and had laws changed thwart their proper due process and subjugate them to the RIAA's personal agenda.

The first lie the RIAA told was the .mp3's were 'exact digital copies' of songs. This is, in all ways, a falsehood. There is scientifically demonstrable acoustic loss involved in the compression process used to record an .mp3, much as there was with a cassette recording of an LP. It can be measured with as simple an instrument as the human ear, but to negate the possibility of human subjectivity, it has also been accurately measured with sound intensity probes. MP3's are lossful, and thus the word 'exact' is a direct deception. Maybe it arose from technical incompetence, maybe from political necessity, but the RIAA is flat wrong on this.

A second noteworthy lie, actually the first part of a lie within a lie, was that P2P traders of songs were 'hurting' the industry, causing revenue loss. The first part of the lie is that the industry was hurting. This is a known lie because Soundscan, the arm of Nielson ratings that feeds information to Billboard and the industry, has measured significantly increased sales during these years, but will not contradict the RIAA, who is their sugar-daddy, so to speak. When confronted with this, the RIAA has responded that they don't measure revenue with point-of-sale purchases, they measure it by comparing units shipped in a fiscal period against units shipped in a previous period. So if they shipped less in 2004 than 2003, the write it off as a loss, even if their sales went up, WHICH THEY ABSOLUTELY DID, during that very period. The irony here is that, while units shipped have decreased, units returned have decreased in direct proportion, while actual sales have increased. Sound like a bad thing for a business? Increased revenue with decreased costs due to more efficient shipping? The horror!

The final lie was the degree to which P2P traders actually impacted sales. In this case, numerous studies, including one notable one done at Harvard, have shown an individual P2P trader would have to receive 5000 downloads of copyrighted songs, 100% of which were unlicensed, to negatively impact sales. The impact to the industry in this case of P2P infringement? ONE SINGLE CD worth of revenue. It doesn't take a Harvard MBA to figure out that this is a completely typical amount of 'loss due to theft' that every retail business in history has written of under 'costs of operation'.

But apparently, it does take a Harvard PhD in logical philosophy to determine why the RIAA is doing this to themselves and their consumers. The only thing I can personally see, and this is a wild hunch, is that all those mega-labels were ever good at in the first place was not making music, but was marketing and distributing music. And now, faced with the new realities of the Internet, they were initially completely clueless and therefore frightened. There is no fear like fear of the unknown for entertainment industry planners, and the thought of losing their iron-fisted control of distribution and marketing must have terrified them. THESE ARE EXACT COPIES OF SONGS, THEY'RE BEING STOLEN AND IT'S HURTING OUR INDUSTRY! THEY'RE THIEVES! MY PRECIOUS! This is what must have driven them to start making things up out of thin air in a desperate lunge to coerce technically and philosophically casual thinkers into re-engineering reality through legislature. THE CONSTITUTION IS OLD, MY PRECIOUS, COPYRIGHT LAWS OUTDATED! CHANGE THEM TO APPEASE US!

In any case, be all that as it may, the problem with the RIAA's handling remains. It's one thing to plead one's case to engage in vigorous debate and implore the legislature into taking action to preserve healthy competition in a capitalistic democracy. It's quite another thing to sway the outcome of said debate with dogma-based demagoguery to over-rule rational thinking, and thus intellectual debate itself, in order to coerce the legislature into unjust, self-centered action. True, we see and seem to accept the latter with greater frequency in this political climate, but our own flawed acceptance doesn't make it any less harmful to free thought and thus good democratic decision-making.

But far worse than even the lowly, authoritarian tactic of redefining words and reality to undermine rational opposition to a flawed dogma itself, has to be intentionally lying when the redefinitions don't take hold with the people. So I find it alarming and very discouraging that the RIAA has been federally rewarded for a lower tactic than the typical delusional demagoguery that we have come to love and appreciate from all our boards of planners and governors.

But that's just me. As for the majority of people like me, the non-P2P trading music fan? We're paying as well, not in some cash settlement of a RIAA lawsuit, but in terms of quality. Every crappy cd with one good song, every 60-year-old band touring, every confession from a dance floor, we're paying. The industry conglomerates stay rich and in control, their revenue grows, but the songs remain inane.


Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...

more about dan gonzalez


tracey kelley
1.5.06 @ 11:00p

Heh. I totally agree with this.

But when you're letting shareholders dictate (energy "crisis", anyone?) this is what happens.

dan gonzalez
1.12.06 @ 1:03a

I been following the RIAA's shit for a long while. 5 years or more. Apparantly that type of unreason never gets old with me.

At any rate, the thing I can't truly believe is that it is somehow okay for the RIAA to spy on us to determine if we 'might' have caused copyright infringement, and the ISP's have to surrender our personal information to them to get a subpoena. But, it's not okay for any other spying to go on.

So, if you're trading songs on a P2P site, you have no right to privacy, but if you're just calling a known Al Qaeda operative, you have an inalienable right that no one can trample. Thanks Democrats!

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